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Slovakia Plays For Gold

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers

Slovakia 3, Czech Republic 1

Longtime NHL player Miroslav Satan scored twice, including the eventual winner, and the Slovaks rode a brilliant performance from goaltender Jan Laco and another clutch third period to earn a berth in the championship game against Russia at the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championship.

Both teams were considered underdogs in their quarterfinal matchup, especially Slovakia, who upset top-seeded Canada thanks to a late tip-in from Michal Handzus. The Czechs qualified for the semis with a goal in the final minute from Milan Michalek against Sweden, but no late-game heroics took place in this matchup between neighboring countries. With the win, last year's tournament hosts will have a chance to win their first world championship since 2002.

Slovakia came out firing in the first period, outshooting the Czechs 11-8 and getting the game-opening goal from Satan, who earned his third of the tournament with just under five minutes remaining in the frame. Unhappy with the first 20 minutes, the Czechs took over in the second, tying the game when Tomas Plekanec won an offensive zone faceoff and fed the puck directly to Michal Frolik, who beat Laco low with a quick shot. Despite outshooting the Slovaks 14-7 in the period, things turned for the Czechs with 3:25 remaining in the second when Frolik appeared dazed following a hit from Mario Bliznack.

Czech Alois Hadamczik, who lost star forward Martin Erat midway through the first on a similar play, was enraged that a penalty wasn't called. Frolik returned in the final period.

The Czechs had problems recovering from the loss of Erat, who was tied for the team lead with three goals in just five tournament games and played only four shifts before coming out of the semifinal contest. Lacking that offensive firepower would benefit the Slovaks, who came into the game outscoring the opposition 8-1 in the third period. With Bliznack serving a tripping penalty to start the third, the Czech Republic came out firing. But Satan struck again while on the penalty kill, pouncing on a loose puck following a Handzus poke check and beating Jakub Kovar to give his team the lead 56 seconds into the final period. Libor Hudacek doubled the Slovak lead 3:27 later and Laco took over from there, stopping 15 Czech shots in the period and finishing the game with 36 saves.

It's an impressive run for a Slovakian squad that qualified for the playoff round at the Worlds for the first time in five years. They played Russia in the preliminary round of last year's championships, losing 4-3.

Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky finished with two shots on 19:34 of ice time.


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